Critical race theory debate hits CU Board of Regents with Ganahl resolution

Governor candidate’s measure would ban faculty, staff from enforcing certain views on racism

By: - October 5, 2021 5:46 pm
Heidi Ganahl

University of Colorado Regent Heidi Ganahl announces her 2022 campaign for Colorado governor outside Rosie’s Diner in Monument on Sept. 14, 2021. (Faith Miller/Colorado Newsline)

At a University of Colorado Board of Regents committee meeting on Tuesday, the political discourse over critical race theory was front and center — and featured a candidate for governor.

CU Regent Heidi Ganahl, who recently jumped into the Republican gubernatorial primary, proposed a resolution that would have banned university administrators, faculty and staff from enforcing “discriminatory or prejudicial attitudes” based on race, ethnicity or gender. The resolution would have defined such attitudes to include:

  • That one race or gender is inherently superior to another
  • That an individual, because of their own race or gender, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously
  • That an individual should be the target of discrimination and adverse treatment on the basis of race, ethnicity, or gender
  • That members of one race, ethnicity, or gender cannot and should not attempt to treat others without respect to race, ethnicity, or gender
  • That an individual’s moral character is determined by race, ethnicity, or gender
  • That an individual, because of their own race, ethnicity or gender, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, ethnicity, or gender
  • That any individual should be made to feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race, ethnicity, or gender
  • That traits such as meritocracy, hard work, patriotism, and religious ethics are racist or sexist or were created by members of a particular race to oppress members of another race

The University Affairs Committee was split on whether to recommend the resolution to the full Board of Regents, with Ganahl and Republican Regent Chance Hill, in favor, and Democratic Regents Callie Rennison and Ilana Dubin Spiegel opposed. The 2-2 vote means the resolution was not officially recommended by the committee, but it could still theoretically be passed by the board.

“Discrimination in any form is antithetical to the values of our university, our state, and our nation,” Ganahl’s proposed resolution stated.

The resolution went on to claim: “There is evidence that mandated diversity and bystander training can create a hostile work environment and such programs have already resulted in federal discrimination lawsuits against universities and employers and reputational damage to the institutions.”

Examples of lawsuits over diversity trainings that led to a favorable outcome for the plaintiff are hard to find.

The U.S. Department of Justice, under former President Donald Trump, did send a letter to the city of Seattle in 2020 raising questions about anti-racist training sessions that separated employees by race. The trainings were meant to teach employees about how they might be internalizing notions of racial hierarchy.

Officials at the DOJ’s Employment Litigation Section requested information from the city in order to determine whether it had violated the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

Ganahl does not normally serve on the Board of Regents’ University Affairs Committee but was appointed by Board Chair Jack Kroll, a Democrat, to replace Republican Regent Sue Sharkey on the committee for Tuesday only.

Before the vote, Spiegel argued that Ganahl’s resolution was “politically motivated.”

The resolution was in line with the common conservative argument that education and trainings on systemic racism — often labeled “critical race theory” in legal and political discourse — would unfairly demonize white students, and oppress students of color, by teaching them how pervasive discrimination in American social systems such as housing, banking and employment has left certain groups worse off, and benefited others, based on race or ethnicity.

Spiegel brought a resolution of her own to the committee that would have the Board of Regents recognize critical race theory as “a legitimate field of academic inquiry and discourse,” and denounce “any efforts to preclude or limit” its teaching. A motion to recommend that resolution to the full board also failed on a 2-2 vote, with Spiegel and Rennison in favor, and Ganahl and Hill opposed. Like Ganahl’s, Spiegel’s resolution could still be brought to the full Board of Regents for a vote without the committee’s recommendation.

Conservative opposition to critical race theory has led to increasing threats to teachers and K-12 school board members. On Monday, the Justice Department directed the FBI to meet with local governments and law enforcement to discuss strategies for dealing with such threats.

“Threats against public servants are not only illegal, they run counter to our nation’s core values,” Attorney General Merrick Garland wrote in a memorandum to FBI Director Christopher Wray.

Ganahl is the only remaining Republican to hold statewide office in Colorado, and she is the most high-profile member of her party so far to challenge Democratic Gov. Jared Polis in 2022.

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Faith Miller
Faith Miller

Faith Miller was a reporter with Colorado Newsline covering the Colorado Legislature, immigration and other stories.